The Garden Patch: Winter gives time to plan spring planting

We talk about a lot of things in this column, so today let’s talk about planning a new garden … and you say to me, “But Steve, I already have a garden space,” and my reply to you would have the overtones of, “Then let’s get creative – let’s do something different – something the neighbors don’t have – and probably haven’t even thought of – let’s plan a new garden!” So, here goes …

The symmetry of rows of colorful edibles is heaven to many gardeners. But if you find this traditional approach boring, consider other geometric possibilities, such as octagon or pie wedges just to name a couple. You can let your imagination run wild!

Once you’ve conjured the possibilities for your space, consider that in most climates, vegetables, fruits and herbs grow best in raised beds. Raised garden beds provide infinitely better drainage than traditional beds built flush with the ground. They also heat up faster in spring, adding days or even weeks to your growing season AND they allow for far easier soil amendment. I’m a believer; I’ve used raised beds for many, many years!

Prepare your new garden beds before you buy your plants. I do mine in the fall. Loosen the soil with a shovel, potato fork or tiller to a depth of at least 8 inches and add several inches of compost. The sides of the raised beds should be 8 to 12 inches above the path grade, and fill them with the ideal mix of topsoil, compost and other amendments. In any case, if the soil is sandy, mix in an extra helping of compost. If you have the materials, building the beds waist high reduces your bending and makes the beds easier to work!

Many gardeners like to support their raised beds with wooden or plastic frames, others just mound up the soil. DO NOT frame your garden beds with creosote-laden railroad ties! New types of pressure treated woods are safer than those produced in the past. Personally, I use landscape timbers, the best choice for framing vegetable beds are always natural materials. Naturally rot-resistant cedar makes an attractive raised-bed frame and also weathers nicely. Or consider stone or brick to enclose your planting areas.

Vegetable gardeners have learned that beds built to 4 feet to 5 feet in width, separated by paths, allow you to reach into the middle of each bed without stepping into it and compacting the soil. Mine are four feet wide and once built are NEVER stepped in, thus, no compaction of the soil. I put gravel in the space between beds, but you can leave it to grass if you prefer mowing. Don’t forget to leave plenty of room for the mower.

Flower garden experts offer these tips for an attractive display: Put tall plants in the back of the bed, short ones in front. Cluster plants in odd numbered groups of three or five. Set the plants in a repeated pattern (but not a rigid structure) across the bed to create a visual rhythm.

To get the most out of your space, plan your garden before you plant and decide which plants you’d like to grow. Be sure to rotate your tomato and brassica (cabbage) family crops at least every three years. If you don’t, the soil will become an ideal breeding ground for diseases that harm those plants. For the best soil management, keep your garden charts to refer to year to year. Personally, I draw all my gardens to scale (I have seven raised bed gardens) and rotate ALL crops EVERY year! Not many bug problems that way! My gardens are all 4 feet by 8 feet except one that is 4 feet by 18 feet. The length is not important – the width is critical!

Well, so much for the new garden planning! Give it some thought and see how creative you can get with your garden planning! Let’s make our area the envy of eastern Kansas gardeners with the kind of gardens that people will drive here to see! It’s no more work than a regular garden, and a lot more fun! LET’S DO IT!

Thank you for reading! We appreciate each and every one of you! Now, let’s get to gardening! After all, that’s why we get together! Till next week.

Portions of this week’s column were from the Organic Gardening supplement Garden Planner.

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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